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  • 25 Feb 2016 5:19 PM | Osei Roach Benn (Administrator)

    The Heliconia Foundation (HF) has asked the Integrity Commission to probe alleged hiring practices at the office of the Attorney General from June 2010 to November 2014 when Anand Ramlogan was the past PP government’s Attorney General.

    The request was sent to the commission, via letter dated February 21, 2016, soon after the foundation, following a court hearing to obtain certain information on the matter, received the information.

    The foundation, formed in 2012 and comprising young professionals, describes itself as a think tank promoting good government, equal opportunity and justice. It has been linked with the ruling PNM. Several members are PNM. Foundation chairman is Michael Coppin who is a PNM Government senator. The letter to the commission is signed by Coppin.

    According to the HF letter, its complaint to the commission regarding the alleged hiring practices is being done pursuant to Section 32 of the Integrity in Public Life Act. It also calls on the commission to determine if any alleged violation occurred concerning sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Proceeds of Crime Act.

    The HF said it had launched a probe in 2014 of 41 ministries, state agencies and state enterprises over the  June 2010 to November 2014 period, using primarily Freedom of Information requests “and with the invaluable help of a number of present and former employees of the  office of the Attorney General (AG).”

    Presenting the results of its investigations to the commission, HF added: “These results reveal a number of startling statistics which in our view call into question the integrity of persons in public life as defined by the  Integrity in Public Life Act.”

    HF’s Freedom of Information requests had sought information on the number and list of posts for which employment contracts were terminated prior to expiry over June 2010 to November 2014 and the number of people who were not previously employed at the AG’s office who were given contracts over the period.

    The HF also sought information on the number and list of positions for which employment contracts were not renewed for June 2010 to November 2014, those persons terminated and reasons for the termination or non-renewals of contracts. THE HF stated information was sought from the AG’s office on the qualification of those employed over the period and what was necessary for the posts.

    It stated the former AG, despite acknowledging receipt of HF’s requests,  “failed, neglected and/or refused to respond” to the stipulated time frame. This forced HF to threaten legal action. When information was still unavailable by August 2015, HF sought judicial review against the former AG.

    The High Court heard the matter last January 23 and an undertaking was given by the AG’s office to release the information last February 15, HF noted. It claimed a number of Equal Opportunity investigation officers at the AG’s office were terminated and a number of advisers to the former AG and communications staff were “woefully underqualified” for the position held.

    HF also claimed the results showed a number of positions also appeared on the list for which there was no official job description. HF also alleged there was an absence of records to substantiate a number of the purported qualifications of persons hired.

    “It is our legal counsel’s view that by hiring persons who were unqualified for the post, persons in public life and or public officials breached their duty to perform their functions and administer public resources in an effective and efficient manner and to be impartial in exercising their public duty.”

    HF also claimed part of the Prevention of Corruption Act was breached. This concerns providing a fee/rewards on account of an agent doing anything in which the state or public body is concerned.

    Ramlogan, whose cellphone carried a message to text him didn’t respond to a texted request for a reply call on the matter. Nor were subsequent calls answered. A man at Ramlogan’s San Fernando office said Ramlogan was not in yesterday.  

    Garvin Nicholas, who succeeded Ramlogan as AG in February 2015, said he had not probed any hirings at the AG’s office when he was there since he had assumed people were properly hired, “because the department has a director of human resources and permanent secretary responsible for hirings.”

    Guardian

  • 18 Nov 2015 5:15 PM | Osei Roach Benn (Administrator)

    Invited to deliver the Feature Address on the theme “What Does the Budget 2016 have for Young People?” at a Post-Budget Forum arranged by the Heliconia Foundation for Young Professionals on Monday 16th November, 2015, the Trade Minister, Senator the Honourable Paula Gopee-Scoon noted that ‘according to the National Youth Policy for Trinidad and Tobago, it is estimated that there are approximately 450,556 young people between the ages of 12 and 29 in Trinidad and Tobago, representing some 34.2 % of the national population. 

    In light of this, the Government acknowledges that each young person has a purpose in life and our goal is to help reveal that purpose and engage each of you in a plan to achieve that purpose and to prosper; whether through educational, cultural or business pursuits.’

    Ministry of Trade And Industry

  • 23 Oct 2015 5:13 PM | Osei Roach Benn (Administrator)

    GOVERNMENT Senator Walede Michael “Mike” Coppin urged Parliament to legislate to ban the award of excessively high fees to attorneys contracted by the State, in his maiden contribution in yesterday’s Senate Budget Debate.

    He lamented that under the former People’s Partnership (PP) government, some $900 million had been paid in fees to contracted attorneys, a scenario he described as “a deep fog descended across the legal profession”. 

    Alleging a past wanton abuse of the Legal Profession code that gives guidelines as to attorneys fees, Coppin opined, “It is clear to me that we have to legislate the method of contracting out legal work, and of assessing the fees.” He said the controversial $900 million included $445 million spent previously by the Ministry of the Attorney-General, plus $292 million by 60 State Enterprises, plus $166 million in legal fees spent by just four Ministries which have been reported, out of 22 Ministries. 

    “This gives us roughly a total of $900 million spent by the last government in only five years,” he said. “From statistics that I have in my possession, attorneys fees as a percent of the total recurrent allocation of recurrent expenditure to the Attorney General’s Office grew from 28 percent in 2008, to 40 percent in 2011 and now stands at a whopping 44 percent in 2015,” explained Coppin. 

    “Forensic investigation for the period 2010 to 2015 amounted to roughly $221 million. The fees for forensic investigation are absolutely shocking when one considers that we have an Anti Corruption Investigation Bureau within the office of the Attorney- General which has been neglected and appears to be incapable of successfully prosecuting anyone. This means that before anyone goes to court and without anyone getting ‘lock up’, millions of taxpayers dollars have already been expended.” Coppin contrasted these hefty sums to unjustly enrich a few attorneys to a severe compromising of the “Poor Man’s” access to justice through the Legal Aid system. He recalled Chief Justice Ivor Archie lamenting the paucity of attorneys doing Legal Aid work and the lack of representation to criminal defendants, despite the large number of attorneys graduating each year from Law School. 

    “While the last government was filling the pockets of their friends, we still have not come up with a solution that would ensure the Legal Aid attorneys are paid at a level that would ensure proper legal representation to those who cannot afford it.” He said the Budget raises the allocation to Legal Aid to $33 million, up from $22 million last year. 

    Coppin hoped that some 202 vacancies in the Office of the Attorney General, and 198 vacancies in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, can be filled by hundreds of graduates each year leaving Hugh Wooding Law School. He was glad that the Government has decided to do more legal work by State attorneys, rather than contracting private attorneys. 

    Coppin welcomed a saving of $38 million by merging the Office of Attorney-General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, saying the combined costs will now be $443 million, less than the $481 million spent previously by them as two separate entities. Coppin, head of the Heliconia Foundation, a thinktank of young professionals which he said supports the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM), described himself as an attorney and an economist. 

    Newsday

  • 23 Oct 2015 5:11 PM | Osei Roach Benn (Administrator)

    THE HELICONIA FOUNDATION is “dedicated to advancing and upholding the principles of the People’s National Movement (PNM)”, president of the group Government Senator Michael Coppin has said.

    Coppin made the statement during his contribution to the 2015/2016 national budget in the Senate on Wednesday.
    “When Senator (Wayne) Sturge comes into the honourable House and he attempts to demonise the Heliconia Foundation, of which I say I am the proud president, and I heard Senator (Wade) Mark ask the question, are we associated with the People’s National Movement and I say yes.
    “And he should know, because the heliconia is a balisier and if he knows what a balisier is he would know that it is the symbol of the People’s National Movement.

    Trinidad Express

  • 15 Oct 2015 4:49 PM | Osei Roach Benn (Administrator)

    THE MINISTRY of Agriculture (former Ministry of Food Production) has agreed to release information requested by the Heliconia Foundation since 2014, as it is related to the termination of persons employed at the ministry for the period 2010 to 2014.

    The Foundation and its vice-president of Finance Vyash Nandlal filed a judicial review claim against former minister Devant Maharaj, who they alleged failed to respond to their queries despite numerous Freedom of Information requests made by them for the information they sought. 

    When the matter was called before Justice Robin Mohammed in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday, attorneys for the ministry said they were now ready to produce the information. 

    The move by the State has brought an end to the matter, and it was ordered that the State pay the Foundation and its VP Finance legal costs. 

    The Foundation and Nandlal filed the claim in August, after they received no response to 15 pre-action protocol letters,which they sent to former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in May. 

    They asked for the number of persons terminated from the ministry from the period June 2010 to November 2014, as well as those whose contracts were not renewed, and the number of new persons employed during that period. 

    The Foundation was represented by attorneys Farid Scoon and Saeed Trotter. The Foundation also has a similar claim which is still before the courts against former Attorney General, Garvin Nicholas. 

    From Carib Daily


  • 25 Sep 2015 4:44 PM | Osei Roach Benn (Administrator)

    HELICONIA Foundation leader, Mike Walede Coppin, said he was glad to be made a Government Senator and promised to be a voice for youth, speaking with Newsday at yesterday’s Opening of Parliament.

    “I feel elated and excited but most of all I feel determined. I feel determined to use the opportunity that I have been given by the People’s National Movement (PNM) and Dr Keith Christopher Rowley to really make a positive change to Trinidad and Tobago. I think Dr Rowley has recognised the importance — more than previous prime ministers — of youth-participation in decision-making in the country. I think it’s really important because to be a truly representative government — of the people and for the people by the people — we can’t continue with young persons being under-represented in the corridors of power and chief decision-making chambers in the country. So I think it’s a positive step. 

    “I think that even the Senate President (Christine Kangaloo) remarked about the number of young persons on the Government benches in the Senate. So I think a good mix of maturity/ experience goes a long way with youthful exuberance and fresh ideas in a technological world that is evolving very rapidly. So we definitely need that perspective.” He said he is excited and determined to make a positive contribution in the Senate. 

    “I eat, drink, sleep Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad is in my DNA. 

    I’m just out to make a positive difference.” Coppin was born in Tobago, but spent his teen years in Trinidad and then went to England to study law. “Now is a time I can use what I’ve learnt to put it into practice, ad there’s no better forum than the Senate.” 

    Newsday

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